Both a growing demand for diversity of Islamic expressions among the urban Muslim middle-class and a desire to forge “an Islamic way of modern living” are evident in the new Muslim spaces being created in Malaysia and Indonesia, reports the IIAS Newsletter (Spring).
Hew Wai Weng, a research fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin, observed during field research in these countries that since 2000, at least 10 Chinese-style mosques have been built, inspired by the design of old mosques in mainland China. However, most of the congregation members are non-Chinese and sermons are preached in local languages. Different motives for the choice of such architectural expressions can be identified. Chinese Muslims want a distinctive representation of their own identity; Muslim groups sponsor them as a way to show Muslim inclusivity; moreover, the places can also be promoted for religious tourism.
Similarly, in the last 10 years, Chinese halal restaurants have mushroomed, first in Malaysia, and now expanding to Indonesia. Chinese converts or Muslim immigrants from China are key players, but many customers are middle-class Malay Muslims. They are also convenient places for Muslims to meet non-Muslims. At the same time, Weng notes attempts to create Muslim gated communities and “Islamic cities.” He sees gated communities as an expression of growing piety and the influence of the market economy. These are places where Muslim middle-class families can find an environment that is both modern and Islamic (including mosques and religious activities), even in architectural features.
Some existing cities in Malaysia (e.g. Kota Bahru) and Indonesia (e.g. Bogor) have declared themselves recently to be “Islamic” or “halal” cities. Both “Islamic” architecture and abiding by moral (Islamic) rules are required. Similarly, in some gated communities, residents are reminded (and required) to perform prayers and behave “Islamically.” Thus, this “Islamic way of modern living” shows attempts to reconcile sometimes contradictory aspirations: “These places are sites of negotiation between Islamic movements and consumer culture, between religious piety and urban lifestyle,” Weng concludes.
(The Newsletter, International Institute for Asian Studies, P.O. Box 9500, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands – www.iias.nl.)